As far as Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works goes, it’s among the higher class of recent shounen anime. While the plotting can be aimless at times, the story never fails to entertain. Beautiful animation paired with ambitious battle choreography greatly aides the show’s entertainment value. Does it still meet the hype?
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is a long awaited anime adaptation of a famous Visual Novel of a similar name, produced by “Type-Moon”, penned by Kinoku Nasu, and adapted by “Ufotable”. For the uninitiated, a “Visual Novel” is a choose-your-own-adventure style “video game”. The “game” is composed of character sprites, backgrounds, text, and a select amount of detailed artworks meant for specific scenes in the storyline. On occasion, choices will pop up in the text, in which the player is allowed to split the story into different routes. This particular anime adaptation focuses on one of the Visual Novel’s three routes: “Unlimited Blade Works”.
In each route, and the anime, Fate/Stay Night starts with the same premise:
The story takes place in modern Japan. Rin Tohsaka, the sole heir to a prestigious family of mages, follows her father’s footsteps and partakes in an age-old battle called the “Holy Grail War”. In this battle, seven mages summon “Servants”, or heroic spirits from the past or legend, and duke it out with one another. If either the servant or master dies, they are eliminated from the war. However, she soon finds out that Shirou Emiya, a boy from her high school, has gotten himself involved in the battles, and unexpectedly saves him when he is fatally injured. Before long, the two set out to strike down the conspiracies surrounding the Holy Grail War.
Six years prior to the announcement of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, an adaptation by “Studio DEEN” aired, focusing on the first, and least popular route of the original game: “Fate”. The lack of popularity following the route notwithstanding, it was both a critical and audience failure. Characters that the fans adored were widely considered bland and unremarkable, the animation was dull and uninspired, and the story was an odd blend of plot points from all three, unrelated routes. After its release, fans bemoaned its existence, knowing that the critical failure of the story on-screen most likely meant there would be no future attempts at adaptation. They would have to be stuck with what they had.
So, the news of a new adaptation by the well regarded “Ufotable” was unsurprisingly met with great joy and anticipation. Months passed, and the hype spread to the uninitiated as well. Unless the show somehow screwed up, it was going to be very, very popular.
It didn’t screw up. The adaption was highly regarded as one of the best shows of its season.
How did it succeed?
The first reason that comes to mind is the ambitious production set given to the show. It looks absolutely stunning. Every background is intensively detailed, every character design smooth and stylistic, every bit of color deliberate and full of life. Important scenes are coated with popping red and purple hues, whereas lighter scenery is created with pleasant, cool colors swarming in the background. The mere choice of color the characters wear is meant to add some to the tone of the scene or setting. Unlike the original adaptation of the visual novel, character line-art is short and smooth, letting the finer colors enveloping the characters give them form. The designs are never too detailed, nor are they too simplistic. Every aspect of the artistic design blends together perfectly, creating sweet eye-candy for the viewers to behold.
All the greater when the animation is so completely fluid. Although, like most anime, the animation is slow and deliberate, there is never a dull movement from the characters. Little animations like sitting down, standing up, and turning around always feel complete. Many anime, including some acclaimed titles such as Attack on Titan, have a tendency of saving their budget for more important scenes – making simple things such as head turns as little as three frames, in some instances. As Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works has a reputation regarding its budget, it never has the need to do this.
This makes the fight scenes spectacular. The animation never slows down during these. The coloring alters to fit the eminent rush of battle. The camera moves with the characters in a bombastic rush, but never cuts them out of the picture. The battles themselves are a spectacle. The servants rush into each other like magnets, yet never collide. The point of view shifts to and fro the participants, but neither slows down the action or falls behind it. The color and lights show, packed with the adrenaline rush of these battles, is enough to entice any action connoisseur. These fight scenes occur fairly often within the show, as well.
A bit too often, I’ll have to add; while the fight scenes are wonderful, they generally make up the majority of the story’s structure. When the plot needs to advance, a servant will drag Shirou and Tohsaka into battle. If they aren’t getting dragged into battle, they’re looking for masters causing trouble in the city. Most of the overarching plotline moves forward through the intervention of opponent servants and masters.
When a battle between characters is not going on, the story generally spends its time developing the growing relationship between characters, the growing moral disagreements between them, and the structure of the Holy Grail War and how magic works. This can be as fascinating as much as it is filler. The relationship between Tohsaka and Shirou is a pleasure to see unfold, as the two have an inexplicable chemistry between them that delves further into the concept of companionship than it does morality.
Morality is discussed quite often in the story. At times, this can be fascinating, but it can also be redundant. A particular issue that is brought up on innumerable occasion is “the ability to save everyone”. This has been portrayed in many works of fiction. A recent example is Spiderman, in which his adversary forces him to choose between saving a bus full of kids and saving his primary romantic interest. He eventually finds a way to save both, but the point is simple: make the selfless choice, or make the selfish choice. In Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, it’s not so simple. Shirou cannot even choose between 200 people on a boat, and 2000 people on another – but unlike Spiderman, he has to. This point is brought up on many, many occasions. While it’s interesting to contemplate, it is not necessary to think about it every time he engages in battle.
Nonetheless, the show as a whole is very entertaining. With the second season airing tomorrow, I am unable to say anything conclusive about it just yet. I can, however, say that I look very much forward to seeing what will come next.
For now, I’ll wait.
What should I review next?